The Government has released controversial proposals for boosting transport connectivity ‘across and between the whole of the UK', including air duty cuts, better rail connections and research into a fixed link with Northern Ireland.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said the Government will consult on cutting Air Passenger Duty (APD) and commit £20m to develop plans for upgraded rail, road, sea and air links.
It follows the publication of the interim report of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review.
Officials said that improving rail links helps cut carbon emissions and that prime minister Boris Johnson will consider the environmental and social impact of transport links, as well as how they can better connect the UK.
However, there remains no sign of the Integrated Rail Plan for the north and midlands, or the DfT’s Transport Decarbonisation plan.
The department said that to ‘jump-start’ some of the projects identified by the connectivity review, the Government has committed £20m towards exploring the development of projects such as:
- improved rail connectivity between the north coast of Wales and England
- upgrading the A75 between Gretna, Dumfries and Stranraer – a key route for south-west Scotland and Northern Ireland but almost entirely single-carriageway
- significantly faster rail links from England to Scotland, including looking at options to enhance the West Coast Main Line
- rail improvements in south-east Wales, building on ideas from the Welsh Government’s Burns Commission
Officials said the Government would ‘work closely’ with devolved administrations on development studies. ‘For example, the UK government will work closely with the Scottish Government on any feasibility study on the A75.’
However, the Scottish Government’s infrastructure secretary, Michael Matheson, said that he had spoken to Sir Peter and UK transport secretary Grant Shapps ‘and again made clear that transport infrastructure is a devolved matter and the Union Connectivity Review was established without any discussion and consultation with Scotland, Wales and NI’.
He pointed out that the devolved administration already had a ‘robust’ process for identifying future transport infrastructure investment in Scotland – the Scottish Transport Projects Review.
Sir Peter said that he had also asked Professor Douglas Oakervee and Professor Gordon Masterton to lead ‘a discrete piece of work’ to assess the feasibility of a fixed link between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.
The DfT said the consultation on aviation tax reform, announced at last year's Budget, will be published in spring 2021 and will include ‘options to change the APD treatment for domestic flights, such as reintroducing a return leg exemption or creation of a new lower domestic rate’.
Andy Bagnall, director general of the Rail Delivery Group representing train operators, said that although development funding to look at better rail links between England, Scotland and Wales ‘rightly recognises the key role trains will play in a future decarbonised transport network […] rather than considering a cut to air passenger duty in isolation, government should ensure there is a level tax playing field across cars, planes and trains with each paying according to the environmental impact they have’.
Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘This is enormously disappointing, especially coming a week after a rail fare rise and fuel duty freeze, and makes a mockery of our climate commitments. The Government’s own green agenda is veering badly off course and without a rethink it threatens to undermine all its previous efforts to tackle carbon emissions.’
On Wednesday the DfT also announced that it will provide £4.3m to fund a ‘vital’ flight route between City of Derry Airport and London Stansted.